Most feathered dinosaurs discovered so far have been coelurosaurs. Philip J. Currie considers it likely and probable that all coelurosaurs were feathered. In the past, Coelurosauria was used to refer to all small theropods, but this classification has since been abolished.
|A collection of coelurosaurs: (Clockwise from upper left) GIN 100/42 which may represent Citipati or a different oviraptorosaur, Sinosauropteryx prima (a feathered compsognathid), Nothronychus mckinleyi (a therizinosaur), Tyrannosaurus rex (a large carnivorous tyrannosauroid), Bambiraptor feinbergi (a small dromaeosaurid), Passer domesticus (a modern bird), Struthiomimus altus (an ornithomimid), Microraptor gui (a winged dromaeosaurid).|
von Huene, 1914
The studying of anatomical traits in coelurosaurs indicates that the last common ancestor had evolved the ability to eat and digest plant matter, adapting to an omnivorous diet, an ability that could be a major contributor to the clade's success. Later groups would hold on to the omnivory, while others specialized in various directions, becoming insectivorous (Alvarezsauridae), herbivorous (Therizinosauridae) and carnivorous (Tyrannosauroidea and Dromaeosauridae). The group includes some of the largest (Tyrannosaurus) and smallest (Microraptor, Parvicursor) carnivorous dinosaurs ever discovered. Characteristics that distinguish coelurosaurs include:
Fossil evidence shows that the skin of even the most primitive coelurosaurs was covered primarily in feathers. Fossil traces of feathers, though rare, have been found in members of most major coelurosaurian lineages. Most coelurosaurs also retained scales and scutes on some portion of their bodies, particularly the feet, though some primitive coelurosaurian species are known to have had scales on the upper legs and portions of the tail as well. These include tyrannosauroids, Juravenator, and Scansoriopteryx. Fossils of at least some of these animals (Scansoriopteryx and possibly Juravenator) also preserve feathers elsewhere on the body.
Though once thought to be a feature exclusive to coelurosaurs, feathers or feather-like structures are also known in some ornithischian dinosaurs (like Tianyulong and Kulindadromeus), and in pterosaurs. Though it is unknown whether these are related to true feathers, recent analysis has suggested that the feather-like integument found in ornithischians may have evolved independently of coelurosaurs.
Although rare, complete casts of theropod endocrania are known from fossils. Theropod endocrania can also be reconstructed from preserved braincases without damaging valuable specimens by using a computed tomography scan and 3D reconstruction software. These finds are of evolutionary significance because they help document the emergence of the neurology of modern birds from that of earlier reptiles. An increase in the proportion of the brain occupied by the cerebrum seems to have occurred with the advent of the Coelurosauria and "continued throughout the evolution of maniraptorans and early birds."
A few fossil traces tentatively associated with the Coelurosauria date back as far as the late Triassic. What has been found between then and the late Middle Jurassic is fragmentary. A typical example is Iliosuchus, known only from two ilia bones in the mid-Jurassic. It was a 1.5 m long carnivore from about 165 Ma (million years ago) in Oxfordshire and is tentatively assigned to the Tyrannosauroidea.
The oldest known unambiguous members of Coelurosauria are the proceratosaurid tyrannosauroids Proceratosaurus and Kileskus from the late Middle Jurassic. Many nearly complete fossil coelurosaurians are known from the Late Jurassic. Archaeopteryx (incl. Wellnhoferia) is known from Bavaria at 155-150 Ma. Ornitholestes, the troodontid WDC DML 001, Coelurus fragilis and Tanycolagreus topwilsoni are all known from the Morrison Formation in Wyoming at about 150 Ma. Epidendrosaurus and Pedopenna are known from the Daohugou Beds in China, whose age is still being debated, but may be about 160 Ma or 145 Ma.
The wide range of fossils in the late Jurassic and morphological evidence suggests that coelurosaurian differentiation was virtually complete before the end of the Jurassic.
In the early Cretaceous, a superb range of coelurosaurian fossils (including avians) are known from the Yixian Formation in Liaoning. All known theropod dinosaurs from the Yixian Formation are coelurosaurs. Many of the coelurosaurian lineages survived to the end of the Cretaceous period (about 66 Ma) and fossils of some lineages, such as the Tyrannosauroidea, are best known from the late Cretaceous. A majority of coelurosaur groups became extinct in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, including the Tyrannosauroidea, Ornithomimosauria, Oviraptorosauria, Deinonychosauria, Enantiornithes, and Hesperornithes. Only the Neornithes, otherwise known as modern birds, survived, and continued to diversify after the extinction of the other dinosaurs into the numerous forms found today.
There is consensus among paleontologists that birds are descended from coelurosaurs. Under modern cladistical definitions, birds are considered the only living lineage of coelurosaurs. Birds are classified by most paleontologists as belonging to the subgroup Maniraptora.
A portion of a tail belonging to a juvenile coelurosaur was found in 2015, inside of a piece of amber.
The phylogeny and taxonomy of Coelurosauria has been subject to intensive research and revision. For many years, Coelurosauria was a 'dumping ground' for all small theropods. In the 1960s several distinctive lineages of coelurosaurs were recognized, and a number of new infraorders were erected, including the Ornithomimosauria, Deinonychosauria, and Oviraptorosauria. During the 1980s and 1990s, paleontologists began to give Coelurosauria a formal definition, usually as all animals closer to birds than to Allosaurus, or equivalent specifiers. Under this modern definition, many small theropods are not classified as coelurosaurs at all and some large theropods, such as the tyrannosaurids, were actually more advanced than allosaurs and therefore were reclassified as giant coelurosaurs. Even more drastically, the segnosaurs, once not even regarded as theropods, have turned out to be non-carnivorous coelurosaurs related to Therizinosaurus. Senter (2007) listed 59 different published phylogenies since 1984. Those since 2005 have followed almost the same pattern, and differ significantly from many older phylogenies.
Within Coelurosauria exists a slightly less inclusive clade named Tyrannoraptora. This clade was defined by Sereno (1999) as "Tyrannosaurus rex, Passer domesticus (the house sparrow), their last common ancestor, and all of its descendants". As tyrannosauroids are considered to be the most basal large group within Coelurosauria, this means that the common ancestor of tyrannosauroids and birds was an even more basal coelurosaurian. As a result, almost all coelurosaurians are also tyrannoraptorans, with the only exceptions being particularly basal species such as Zuolong salleei or Sciurumimus albersdoerferi.
The following family tree illustrates a synthesis of the relationships of the major coelurosaurian groups based on various studies conducted in the 2010s.
"Coelurosaurus" is an informal generic name, attributed to Friedrich von Huene, 1929, that is sometimes seen in lists of dinosaurs. It probably arose as a typographical error; von Huene intended to assign indeterminate remains to Coelurosauria incertae sedis, but at some point in the process of publication a revision to the text made it appear that he was creating a new generic name "Coelurosaurus" (as described by George Olshevsky in a 1999 post to the Dinosaur Mailing List). The name is undescribed and has not been used seriously, although it has appeared in works of fiction.
Averostra, or "bird snouts", is a clade that includes most theropod dinosaurs that have a promaxillary fenestra (fenestra promaxillaris), an extra opening in the front outer side of the maxilla, the bone that makes up the upper jaw. Two groups of averostrans, the Ceratosauria and the Orionides, survived into the Cretaceous period. When the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event occurred, ceratosaurians and two groups of orionideans within the clade Coelurosauria, the Tyrannosauroidea and Maniraptoriformes, were still extant. Only one subgroup of maniraptoriformes, Aves, survived the extinction event and persisted to the present day.Avetheropoda
Avetheropoda, or "bird theropods", is a clade that includes carnosaurians and coelurosaurs to the exclusion of other dinosaurs.Cerapoda
Cerapoda ("ceratopsians and ornithopods") is a clade of the dinosaur order Ornithischia.Coeluridae
Coeluridae is a historically unnatural group of generally small, carnivorous dinosaurs from the late Jurassic Period. For many years, any small Jurassic or Cretaceous theropod that did not belong to one of the more specialized families recognized at the time was classified with the coelurids, creating a confusing array of 'coelurid' theropods that were not closely related. Although they have been traditionally included in this family, there is no evidence that any of these primitive coelurosaurs form a natural group with Coelurus, the namesake of Coeluridae, to the exclusion of other traditional coelurosaur groups.Coelurus
Coelurus ( si-LEWR-əs) is a genus of coelurosaurian dinosaur from the Late Jurassic period (mid-late Kimmeridgian faunal stage, 155–152 million years ago). The name means "hollow tail", referring to its hollow tail vertebrae (Greek κοῖλος, koilos = hollow + οὐρά, oura = tail). Although its name is linked to one of the main divisions of theropods (Coelurosauria), it has historically been poorly understood, and sometimes confused with its better-known contemporary Ornitholestes. Like many dinosaurs studied in the early years of paleontology, it has had a confusing taxonomic history, with several species being named and later transferred to other genera or abandoned. Only one species is currently recognized as valid: the type species, C. fragilis, described by Othniel Charles Marsh in 1879. It is known from one partial skeleton found in the Morrison Formation of Wyoming, United States. It was a small bipedal carnivore with elongate legs.Dinosauriformes
Dinosauriformes is a clade of archosaurian reptiles that include the dinosaurs and their most immediate relatives. All dinosauriformes are distinguished by several features, such as shortened forelimbs and a partially to fully perforated acetabulum, the hole in the hip socket traditionally used to define dinosaurs. The oldest known member is Asilisaurus, dating to about 245 million years ago in the Anisian age of the middle Triassic period.Jeholosauridae
Jeholosaurids were herbivorous neornithischian dinosaurs from the Cretaceous Period (Aptian - Santonian, with a possible Campanian record) of Asia. The family was first proposed by Han et al. in 2012. The jeholosaurids were defined as those ornithischians more closely related to Jeholosaurus shangyuanensis than to Hypsilophodon foxii, Iguanodon bernissartensis, Protoceratops andrewsi, Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis, or Thescelosaurus neglectus. The Jeholosauridae includes the type genus Jeholosaurus and Yueosaurus.Jingshanosaurus
Jingshanosaurus (meaning "Jingshan lizard") is a genus of sauropodomorph dinosaurs from the early Jurassic period.Kulindadromeus
Kulindadromeus was a herbivorous dinosaur, a basal neornithischian from the Jurassic. The first Kulindadromeus fossil was found in Russia. Its feather-like integument is evidence for protofeathers being basal to Dinosauria as a whole, rather than just to Coelurosauria, as previously suspected.Megaraptora
Megaraptora is a clade of carnivorous theropod dinosaurs with elongated hand claws and controversial relations to other theropods.Megaraptorans are incompletely known, and no complete megaraptoran skeleton has been found. However, they still possessed a number of unique features. Their forelimbs were large and strongly built, and the ulna bone had a unique shape in members of the family Megaraptoridae, a subset of megaraptorans which excludes Fukuiraptor. The first two fingers were elongated, with massive curved claws, while the third finger was small. Megaraptoran skull material is very incomplete, but a juvenile Megaraptor described in 2014 preserved a portion of the snout, which was long and slender. Leg bones referred to megaraptorans were also quite slender and similar to those of coelurosaurs adapted for running. Although megaraptorans were thick-bodied theropods, their bones were heavily pneumatized, or filled with air pockets. The vertebrae, ribs, and the ilium bone of the hip were pneumatized to an extent which was very rare among theropods, only seen elsewhere in taxa such as Neovenator. Other characteristic features include opisthocoelous neck vertebrae and compsognathid-like teeth.The clade was originally named in 2010 as a subset of the family Neovenatoridae, a group of lightly-built allosauroids related to the massive carcharodontosaurids such as Giganotosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus. A 2013 phylogenetic analysis by Fernando Novas and his colleagues disagreed with this classification scheme, and instead argued that the megaraptorans evolved deep within Tyrannosauroidea, a superfamily of basal coelurosaurs including the famous Tyrannosaurus. Subsequent refinements to Novas's data and methodologies have supported a third position for the group, at the base of Coelurosauria among other controversial theropods such as Gualicho, but not within the Tyrannosauroidea. Regardless of their position, it is clear that megaraptorans experienced a large amount of convergent evolution with either Neovenator-like allosauroids or basal coelurosaurs.Megaraptorans were most diverse in the early Late Cretaceous of South America, particularly Patagonia. However, they had a widespread distribution. Fukuiraptor, the most basal ("primitive") known member of the group, lived in Japan. Megaraptoran material is also common in Australia, and the largest known predatory dinosaur from the continent, Australovenator, was a megaraptoran.Melanorosauridae
The Melanorosauridae were a family of sauropodomorph dinosaurs which lived during the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic. The name Melanorosauridae was first coined by Friedrich von Huene in 1929. Huene assigned several families of dinosaurs to the infraorder "Prosauropoda": the Anchisauridae, the Plateosauridae, the Thecodontosauridae, and the Melanorosauridae. Since then, these families have undergone numerous revisions. Galton and Upchurch (2004) considered Camelotia, Lessemsaurus, and Melanorosaurus members of the family Melanorosauridae. A more recent study by Yates (2007) indicates that the melanorosaurids were instead early sauropods.Neotheropoda
Neotheropoda (meaning "new theropods") is a clade that includes coelophysoids and more advanced theropod dinosaurs, and the only group of theropods who survived the Triassic–Jurassic extinction event. Yet all of the neotheropods became extinct during the early Jurassic period except for Averostra.Orionides
Orionides is a clade of tetanuran theropod dinosaurs from the Middle Jurassic to the Present. The clade includes most theropod dinosaurs, including birds.Orodrominae
Orodrominae is a subfamily of parksosaurid dinosaurs from the Cretaceous of North America and Asia.Riojasauridae
Riojasauridae is a family of sauropod-like dinosaurs from the Upper Triassic. It is known primarily from the genera Riojasaurus and Eucnemesaurus. Sites containing Riojasauridae include the Lower Elliot Formation of Orange Free State, South Africa (where fossils of Eucnemesaurus have been found), and Ischigualasto, in La Rioja Province, Argentina ( where fossils of Riojasaurus have been recovered).Shanyangosaurus
Shanyangosaurus is a genus of theropod dinosaur found in Shaanxi, China, and known only from a few fragmentary leg bones. The bones are reportedly hollow; this, along with other features of the femur and known foot bones, suggest it is a member of the coelurosauria, but a specific family cannot be determined without more material. Holtz et al. assigned Shanyangosaurus to Avetheropoda.Tetanurae
Tetanurae (/ˌtɛtəˈnjuːriː/ or "stiff tails") is a clade that includes most theropod dinosaurs, including megalosauroids, allosauroids, tyrannosauroids, ornithomimosaurs, maniraptorans, and birds. Tetanurans are defined as all theropods more closely related to modern birds than to Ceratosaurus and contain the majority of predatory dinosaur diversity. Tetanurae likely diverged from its sister group, Ceratosauria, during the late Triassic. Tetanurae first appeared in the fossil record by the Early Jurassic about 190 mya and by the Middle Jurassic had become globally distributed.The group was named by Jacques Gauthier in 1986 and originally had two main subgroups: Carnosauria and Coelurosauria, the clade containing birds and related dinosaurs such as compsognathids, tyrannosaurids, ornithomimosaurs, and maniraptorans. The original Carnosauria was a polyphyletic group including any large carnivorous theropod. Many of Gauthier’s carnosaurs, such as tyrannosaurids, have since been re-classified as coelurosaurs or primitive tetanurans. Carnosauria has been reclassified as a group containing allosaurids that split from the Coelurosauria at the Neotetanurae/Avetheropoda node. Members of Spinosauroidea are believed to represent basal tetanurans.Tetanuran evolution was characterized by parallel diversification of multiple lineages, repeatedly attaining large body size and similar locomotor morphology. Cryolophosaurus has been claimed as the first true member of the group, but subsequent studies have disagreed on whether it is a dilophosaurid or tetanuran. Arcucci and Coria (2003) classified Zupaysaurus as an early tetanuran, but it was later placed as a sister taxon to the clade containing dilophosaurids, ceratosaurs, and tetanurans.Shared tetanuran features include a ribcage indicating a sophisticated air-sac-ventilated lung system similar to that in modern birds. This character would have been accompanied by an advanced circulatory system. Other tetanuran characterizing features include the absence of the fourth digit of the hand, placement of the maxillary teeth anterior to the orbit, a strap-like scapula, maxillary fenestrae, and stiffened tails. During the Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous, large spinosaurids and allosaurs flourished but possibly died out in the northern hemisphere before the end of the Cretaceous, and were replaced as apex predators by tyrannosauroid coelurosaurs. At least in South America, carcharodontosaurid allosaurs persisted until the end of the Mesozoic Era, and died out at the same time the non-avian coelurosaurs.Theropoda
Theropoda ( or , from Greek θηρίον "wild beast" and πούς, ποδός "foot") or theropods () are a dinosaur suborder that is characterized by hollow bones and three-toed limbs. They are generally classed as a group of saurischian dinosaurs, although a 2017 paper has instead placed them in the proposed clade Ornithoscelida as the closest relatives of the Ornithischia. Theropods were ancestrally carnivorous, although a number of theropod groups evolved to become herbivores, omnivores, piscivores, and insectivores. Theropods first appeared during the Carnian age of the late Triassic period 231.4 million years ago (Ma) and included the sole large terrestrial carnivores from the Early Jurassic until at least the close of the Cretaceous, about 66 Ma. In the Jurassic, birds evolved from small specialized coelurosaurian theropods, and are today represented by about 10,500 living species.Thescelosaurinae
Thescelosaurinae is a subfamily of ornithischian dinosaurs from the Early Cretaceous of Asia and the Late Cretaceous of North America.